Defense Starts Before You Need It

by Cynthia L. Armistead

Every person has three vital defenses that cannot be taken from her against her will:

  1. Awareness
  2. Attitude
  3. Advance Preparations

Those defenses will serve you better than anything else in every type of crisis or potential crisis. You must be alert and aware of what is happening around you at all times. You must be willing and ready to act quickly and decisively in any situation. You must prepare yourself with skills, information and tools with which to act.


Who is around you? How long have they been there? Was that man in the car behind you also in the next checkout line at the grocery store, and in the coffeeshop where you had lunch? How many other people are around you? How close are you to a police or fire station? Does anyone else know where you are and when you should arrive at your next destination? Did you leave the car door unlocked, or has someone else been in your vehicle?

Knowing what's going on allows you to react quickly and, in many cases, to avoid problems. Stand up straight and proud, make eye contact with people you encounter, and speak firmly. You will not look like an attractive target in comparison to someone who seems to be zoned out or is staring at the ground or walking along reading her mail.

Be especially aware of anyone who is getting inside your personal space. If someone is too close to you for comfort, try to establish more space between you and make eye contact (without a smile or a timid expression).

Similarly, be aware of the weather. Check weather forecasts and reports regularly, and change your plans if necessary. Be aware of the other vehicles around you so that you will have a better chance of avoiding an accident if another driver has trouble.

Be aware of yourself. Are you tired, hungry, or distracted? Take care of yourself. Change your plans if you aren't at your best. A good guideline is to treat yourself as well as you would treat your own child. Do not do anything that would cause you to be more vulnerable than usual (such as consuming alcoholic beverages or other substances) unless you have a highly trusted companion who is staying sober and will take care of you if necessary. Avoiding anything that could impair your judgement is even better. Someone you just met (like a blind date, or someone you're meeting in person for the first time) is not eligible for "highly trusted companion" status.


Don't be a victim. Be sure of yourself and your skills. Know that you are a strong, capable person who can handle anything that happens. Make smart choices, like not walking through alleys or being in bad parts of town alone (especially late at night), and not working or living in dangerous areas. Refuse to work late if it means leaving alone or being in your workplace with only one or two other people you don't know well. And if you are attacked, fight back and make a lot of noise immediately.

Be resilient and keep your wits about you. Instead of breaking down sobbing or losing your temper if someone rear-ends you, consider the situation. Are you and the other party the only vehicles visible? Then don't stop at all. Call 911 from your cell phone to report the accident as you drive slowly to the nearest well-lit, populated place. Refuse to roll down your window or otherwise expose yourself to someone who may be an attacker.

Rehearsing possible scenarios can help you react quickly. Model Mugging and similar training programs rely on this technique, but you can extend the same practice to thinking about auto accidents or breakdowns, natural disasters, medical crises, etc. Practice with your children, as well.

Advance Preparations

Invest in yourself and your safety. Develop habits that will protect you.

  • Always lock your car doors, whether you are in the car or leaving it parked somewhere. That includes your own driveway. Do not leave a child in a vehicle alone, even for a minute.
  • Keep your vehicle windows up as much as possible.
  • Get a cell phone. Keep its battery charged. Have it with you and accessible at all times. "It's around here somewhere" doesn't count. Program in the phone numbers of all your friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers - anyone who might be able to help you in a crisis or who you might need to reach in an emergency.
  • Keep your car in good repair and full of gas. Check the tires and the fluids every time you get gas.
  • Join AAA or otherwise arrange for possible road emergencies ahead of time.
  • Keep a current, detailed map in your car. It's safer to figure out where you are with the map than to get lost and have to approach total strangers in possibly-dangerous areas. If you aren't confident of your map-using skills, get a friend to help you improve them.
  • Stock your vehicle and keep the supplies fresh. Suggestions:
    • A good, sturdy flashlight and plenty of fresh batteries
    • A pair of good walking shoes
    • Rain gear
    • A blanket
    • A change of clothing - something sturdy that you can move in easily.
    • An empty gas can
    • Basic auto fluids (oil, water, brake/steering/transmission fluids)
    • Tools for making simple repairs if necessary
    • A first aid kit
    • Any critical medications, such as an epi pen if you have severe allergies, nitroglycerin, insulin, sugar tablets, etc.
    • A small amount of emergency cash for phone calls, gas, etc.
  • Learn to defend yourself physically and stay in practice.
  • Take first aid/CPR training.
  • Develop a network of supportive relationships. Be someone who others can rely on to help in crises, and surround yourself with others on whom you can rely.
  • Get enough sleep. Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. Even small amounts of sleep deprivation affect our health and judgement adversely.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration quickly leads to drowsiness and impaired jugement.

Suggested Reading

Originally published November 6, 2003


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This file last modified 05/26/18